The majority of security hardware manufacturers support the introduction of the H.265 compression standard to video surveillance
The integration of H.265 technology may be hindered by the
availability of optimised H.264 best encoding for surveillance systems

Video compression technology has been a crucial element in surveillance system design since the advent of Internet Protocol (IP) in the 1990s. Since that time, standards for video encoding have been explored in various capacities. Currently, the industry is all abuzz around H.265 High Efficiency Video Coding – the next iteration beyond H.264, which currently dominates IP video encoding technology.

What is H.265?

H.265 is a significant step forward. Specifically, H.265 doubles the compression efficiency of H.264. Therefore, when transmitting images of a given quality, H.265 uses only half the bit rate of the previous codec. This means that both bandwidth and storage requirements are drastically reduced – a great benefit for both hardware and software usage. Users essentially do more with less. Because of this, the majority of security hardware manufacturers support the introduction of the H.265 compression standard to video surveillance. So, for video applications, expect to see H.265 replacing H.264 as the next standard.

However, that being said, H.265 is still a way away from mass adoption. With the popularity of HD video that has been widely applied across the industry, do users have any other option to optimise HD image transmission and squeeze storage before that turnover happens in the surveillance realm? Recent advancements in the current H.264 codec are optimising bitrates, and doing it in three ways: predictive encoding, noise suppression, and “long-term” bitrate control. The result is a reduction of up to 75% in storage requirements within the H.264 paradigm. Thanks to these innovations (and a couple of other factors), it looks likely that in the next five or 10 years, the two standards will co-exist in the market.    

Impediments to H.265 adoption

The integration of H.265 technology will likely be hindered by the availability of optimised H.264 encoding, as well as the cost of upgrading current systems to H.265 since all or most of the components in a system will need to be replaced by those that support this new standard. Other impediments include the industrial chain – changing manufacturing processes to produce H.265 equipment – and issues over patents (which we’ll address below). Basically, H.264 remains the viable and workable standard for a vast majority of security surveillance systems. It’s still getting the job done – and rather well, too.  

a number of innovative manufacturers have introduced optimised H.264 encoding technologies
With the higher cost, users will need to be convinced
that the upgrade to H.265 is really worth it

Limitations of laboratory testing

According to tests carried out by the Joint Collaborative Team on Video Coding (JCT-VC), the compression rate of H.265 has doubled from that of H.264. But as you’d expect, these tests were carried out in laboratory environments, away from the various complexities of real-world applications. What we’d like to see, in the development of H.265 products, is real-time encoding in action, balancing the algorithm’s complexity with its compression capability. As it exists right now, for industrial and surveillance applications, H.265’s compression capabilities may not reach the 100% improvement as claimed over H.264 in an actual application scenario.  

It stands to note that H.264 has had 10+ years of industry integration in which to develop, with support from all chipset manufacturers and the widest variety of encoders and decoders available (not to mention decreased costs because of this wide availability and range of product designs). It’s tested and proven in real-world surveillance and industrial applications. H.265 tech has a lot of catching up to do here.   

Higher patent cost

Another issue which may prevent widespread adoption of the H.265 standard is the issue of patents. The H.264 patent enjoys a wide variety of enterprise owners, while H.265, at this early stage of its existence, is not common in the industry, and the enterprises which own it are not unified on the matter. The result is a much higher patent cost – a major issue which security businesses need to consider seriously, as it affects manufacturing and, thereby, the price tag for the consumer. And the price tag, naturally, is critical when a new standard is introduced – especially if users have to replace both the frontend and backend of their system to take advantage of improved video compression. With a higher cost, they will need to be convinced that the upgrade is really worth it.

Optimised H.264 encoding technologies              

The issues mentioned above notwithstanding, the primary reason we feel H.265 won’t become the dominant encoding solution any time soon is simply the lack of demand – a number of innovative manufacturers have introduced optimised H.264 encoding technologies so the need hasn’t arrived yet. It’s a “solution in search of a problem,” as the saying goes.

Optimised H.264 technologies use predictive encoding to reduce the bitrate being spent on an unchanging background image
Optimised H.264 technologies use predictive encoding to reduce the bitrate being
spent on an unchanging background image

Since the launch of H.264 technology circa 2003, the security industry has been developing high performance video encoders in order to transmit higher quality video for surveillance applications. Add to that the increasing popularity of HD video and the subsequent bitrate and resolution demands, and it’s easy to see where the overall system and component cost has risen. The sheer amount of video data produced means users have had to invest in ever-expanding storage solutions.

Manufacturing capabilities have continually matured over this time; processing capabilities have flourished; algorithms have been optimised. The pervasive use of H.264 throughout the industry has both informed all of these developments and required major surveillance equipment manufacturers to commit to improving the range of available H.264 encoding solutions.

Predictive encoding

How are improvements to the H.264 codec being made? First, research in the way video compression is actually used at the ground level in various industries. For example, in any given surveillance video, users are primarily concerned with moving objects rather than the scene’s generally stagnant background. When the background doesn’t change, it can be encoded as a reference frame. Optimised H.264 technologies capitalise on this and use predictive encoding to reduce the bitrate being spent on an unchanging background image. By applying that predictive encoding across an entire system, users can reap big savings in both bandwidth and storage.   

Noise suppression  

Another important element of H.264 optimisation is its noise suppression. “Noise,” or unwanted electrical signal displaying in the video feed, is a potent foe of digital video bandwidth. It results in an image’s background appearing to be littered with extraneous pixels and is caused by fluctuations in light, temperature, or other various signals in the air. But optimised H.264 technologies, using intelligent analysis algorithms, suppress much of this noise by encoding the foreground subject of the image at a higher bitrate relative to the background image. The result: sharp images with accurate colour. Or, more of what you want to see, less of what you don’t.

It looks likely that in the next five or 10 years, the H.264 and H.265 standards will co-exist in the market
Improvements over basic H.264 encoding currently exceed
what the available H.265 encoding technology has to offer

Long-term bitrate control

Lastly, bitrate requirements for any given scene can fluctuate over the course of a day. In a typical street scene, for example, there is little foreground movement at night so bitrate requirements remain low. During the day, however, those bitrate requirements increase dramatically, with both vehicles and pedestrians moving across the fore- and background of the scene. Advanced H.264 encoding technologies manage this hour-specific variance by calculating an overall average bitrate, then automatically allocating the required bitrate at the time of day when it is needed. This is done while still maintaining the average bitrate as the encoder’s set value. Known as long-term bitrate control, the major of advantage here is that users are able to accurately predict their video storage requirements, since the bitrate – and thus storage size – can be user-specified.  

These improvements over basic H.264 encoding currently exceed what the available H.265 encoding technology has to offer. They also bring along other advantages: compatibility with existing systems, lower product costs, wider product variability, and lower current patent risk.   

The 10-year compression itch

Video compression developments have tended to follow a (roughly) 10-year cycle. In 1994, MPEG2 was introduced. H.264 launched in 2003 and H.265 in 2013. The historical context is important here because video encoding standards react not just to technological changes, but to trends across the whole video industry.

When MPEG2 was the standard, the industry focused mainly on DVD players and standard definition televisions, where MPEG2 could be utilised. The advent of H.264 coincided with the introduction of HD technology, advanced IT technology, and the mobile internet, which meant that the more powerful compression standard was more fully exploited. These developments included HD digital television, Internet video, mobile video, video surveillance, Blu-ray, and others.

As H.265 makes its way onto the scene, we believe it will be used most widely in the development of ultra-HD technologies and in cloud storage applications, for example.

Beyond H.265

After the launch of H.265, the members of the Joint Collaborative Team on Video Coding (JCT-VC) began looking at what would come next. In 2015, they established the Joint Video Exploring Team (JVET), focusing on further improvements in compression capabilities. Their latest test data suggests they have achieved a 20% improvement on H.265’s compression performance. At the same time, another organisation – the Alliance for Open Media (AOM) – was set up by a number of internet-focused companies, including Microsoft, Google, Intel, and Amazon, aiming to offer a free standard for internet video. The plan is that this standard would accelerate technology updates to meet the manic speeds of development in the online world.

The competition to develop these standards is likely to be fierce – and it might also mean the 10-year compression cycle falls by the wayside, with a new standard appearing in a much shorter period this time around.

Download PDF version Download PDF version

Author profile

In case you missed it

The physical side of data protection
The physical side of data protection

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated our digital dependency, on a global scale. Data centres have become even more critical to modern society. The processing and storage of information underpin the economy, characterised by a consistent increase in the volume of data and applications, and reliance upon the internet and IT services. Data centres classed as CNI As such, they are now classed as Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) and sit under the protection of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI). As land continues to surge in value, data centre operators are often limited for choice, on where they place their sites and are increasingly forced to consider developed areas, close to other infrastructures, such as housing or industrial sites. Complex security needs One misconception when it comes to data centres is that physical security is straightforward One misconception when it comes to data centres is that physical security is straightforward. However, in practice, things are far more complex. On top of protecting the external perimeter, thought must also be given to factors, such as access control, hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM), protecting power infrastructure, as well as standby generators and localising security devices to operate independently of the main data centre. Face value How a site looks is more important than you may think. Specify security that appears too hostile risks blatantly advertising that you’re protecting a valuable target, ironically making it more interesting to opportunistic intruders. The heightened security that we recommend to clients for these types of sites, include 4 m high-security fences, coils of razor wire, CCTV, and floodlighting. When used together in an integrated approach, it’s easy to see how they make the site appear hostile against its surroundings. However, it must appear secure enough to give the client peace of mind that the site is adequately protected. Getting the balance right is crucial. So, how do you balance security, acoustics and aesthetics harmoniously? Security comes first These are essential facilities and as a result, they require appropriate security investment. Cutting corners leads to a greater long-term expense and increases the likelihood of highly disruptive attacks. Checkpoints Fortunately, guidance is available through independent accreditations and certifications, such as the Loss Prevention Certification Board’s (LPCB) LPS 1175 ratings, the PAS 68 HVM rating, CPNI approval, and the police initiative - Secured by Design (SBD). Thorough technical evaluation and quality audit These bodies employ thorough technical evaluation work and rigorous quality audit processes to ensure products deliver proven levels of protection. With untested security measures, you will not know whether a product works until an attack occurs. Specifying products accredited by established bodies removes this concern. High maintenance Simply installing security measures and hoping for the best will not guarantee 24/7 protection. Just as you would keep computer software and hardware updated, to provide the best level of protection for the data, physical security also needs to be well-maintained, in order to ensure it is providing optimum performance. Importance of testing physical security parameters Inspecting the fence line may seem obvious and straightforward, but it needs to be done regularly. From our experience, this is something that is frequently overlooked. The research we conducted revealed that 63% of companies never test their physical security. They should check the perimeter on both sides and look for any attempted breaches. Foliage, weather conditions or topography changes can also affect security integrity. Companies should also check all fixtures and fittings, looking for damage and corrosion, and clear any litter and debris away. Accessibility When considering access control, speed gates offer an excellent solution for data centres. How quickly a gate can open and close is essential, especially when access to the site is restricted. The consequences of access control equipment failing can be extremely serious, far over a minor irritation or inconvenience. Vehicle and pedestrian barriers, especially if automated, require special attention to maintain effective security and efficiency. Volume control Data centres don’t generally make the best neighbours. The noise created from their 24-hour operation can be considerable. HVAC systems, event-triggered security and fire alarms, HV substations, and vehicle traffic can quickly become unbearable for residents. Secure and soundproof perimeter As well as having excellent noise-reducing properties, timber is also a robust material for security fencing So, how do you create a secure and soundproof perimeter? Fortunately, through LPS 1175 certification and CPNI approval, it is possible to combine high-security performance and up to 28dB of noise reduction capabilities. As well as having excellent noise-reducing properties, timber is also a robust material for security fencing. Seamlessly locking thick timber boards create a flat face, making climbing difficult and the solid boards prevent lines of sight into the facility. For extra protection, steel mesh can either be added to one side of the fence or sandwiched between the timber boards, making it extremely difficult to break through. A fair façade A high-security timber fence can be both, aesthetically pleasing and disguise its security credentials. Its pleasant natural façade provides a foil to the stern steel bars and mesh, often seen with other high-security solutions. Of course, it’s still important that fencing serves its primary purposes, so make sure you refer to certifications, to establish a product’s security and acoustic performance. Better protected The value of data cannot be overstated. A breach can have severe consequences for public safety and the economy, leading to serious national security implications. Countering varied security threats Data centres are faced with an incredibly diverse range of threats, including activism, sabotage, trespass, and terrorism on a daily basis. It’s no wonder the government has taken an active role in assisting with their protection through the medium of the CPNI and NCSC. By working with government bodies such as the CPNI and certification boards like the LPCB, specifiers can access a vault of useful knowledge and advice. This will guide them to effective and quality products that are appropriate for their specific site in question, ensuring it’s kept safe and secure.

Data explosion: Futureproofing your video surveillance infrastructure
Data explosion: Futureproofing your video surveillance infrastructure

Video surveillance systems are producing more unstructured data than ever before. A dramatic decrease in camera costs in recent years has led many businesses to invest in comprehensive surveillance coverage, with more cameras generating more data. Plus, advances in technology mean that the newest (8K) cameras are generating approximately 800% more data than their predecessors (standard definition). Traditional entry-level solutions like network video recorders (NVRs) simply aren’t built to handle massive amounts of data in an efficient, resilient and cost-effective manner. This has left many security pioneers grappling with a data storage conundrum. Should they continue adding more NVR boxes? Or is there another, better, route? Retaining video data In short, yes. To future proof their video surveillance infrastructure, an increasing number of businesses are adopting an end-to-end surveillance architecture with well-integrated, purpose-built platforms for handling video data through its lifecycle. This presents significant advantages in terms of security, compliance and scalability, as well as unlocking new possibilities for data enrichment. All of this with a lower total cost of ownership than traditional solutions. Security teams would typically delete recorded surveillance footage after a few days or weeks Previously, security teams would typically delete recorded surveillance footage after a few days or weeks. However, thanks to increasingly stringent legal and compliance demands, many are now required to retain video data for months or even years. There’s no doubt that this can potentially benefit investigations and increase prosecutions, but it also puts significant pressure on businesses’ storage infrastructure. Data lifecycle management This necessitates a more intelligent approach to data lifecycle management. Rather than simply storing video data in a single location until it’s wiped, an end-to-end video surveillance solution can intelligently migrate data to different storage platforms and media as it ages. So, how does this work? Video is recorded and analysed on a combination of NVR, hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) and application servers. Then, it’s moved to resilient file storage for a pre-determined period, where it can be immediately retrieved and accessed for review. Finally, based on policies set by heads of security, data is moved from file storage to highly secure, low-cost archive storage such as an object, tape or cloud. Data is moved from file storage to highly secure, low-cost archive storage Long-term storage This process is known as tiering. It allows businesses to use reliable, inexpensive long-term storage for most of their data, whilst still enabling security pioneers to retrieve video data when the need arises, such as during a compliance audit, or to review footage following a security breach. In a nutshell, it offers them the best of both worlds. Scaling your video surveillance infrastructure can be a headache. Businesses that rely on NVRs – even high-end units with 64 or even 96 hard drives – are finding themselves running out of capacity increasingly quickly. In order to scale, security pioneers then have to procure new boxes. With NVRs, this inevitably involves a degree of guesswork. Should they go for the largest possible option, and risk over provisioning? Or perhaps a smaller option, and risk running out of capacity again? Common management console Security pioneers can easily add or remove storage capacity or compute resources – separately or together As businesses add new cameras or replace existing ones, many end up with inadequate surveillance infrastructure made up of multiple NVR boxes along with several application servers for running other surveillance functions such as access control, security photo databases, analytics, etc. This patchwork approach leaves security pioneers scrambling for capacity, maintaining various hardware footprints, repeating updates and checks across multiple systems, and taking up valuable time that could be better spent elsewhere. By contrast, flexible HCI surveillance platforms aggregate the storage and ecosystem applications to run on the same infrastructure and combine viewing under a common management console, avoiding ‘swivel chair’ management workflows. Plus, they offer seamless scalability. Security pioneers can easily add or remove storage capacity or compute resources – separately or together. Data storage solutions Over time, this ensures a lower total cost of ownership. First and foremost, it removes the risk of over provisioning and helps to control hardware sprawl. This in turn leads to hardware maintenance savings and lower power use. Many security pioneers are now looking beyond simple data storage solutions for their video surveillance footage. Meta tags can provide context around data, making it easier to find and access when needed Instead, they’re asking themselves how analysing this data can enable their teams to work faster, more efficiently and productively. Implementing an end-to-end video surveillance architecture enables users to take advantage of AI and machine learning applications which can tag and enrich video surveillance data. These have several key benefits. Firstly, meta tags can provide context around data, making it easier to find and access when needed. Object storage platform For instance, if security teams are notified of a suspicious red truck, they can quickly find data with this tag, rather than manually searching through hours of data, which can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. Plus, meta tags can be used to mark data for future analysis. This means that as algorithms are run over time, policies can be set to automatically store data in the right location. For example, if a video is determined to contain cars driving in and out of your premises, it would be moved to long-term archiving such as an object storage platform for compliance purposes. If, on the other hand, it contained 24 hours of an empty parking lot, it could be wiped. These same meta tags may be used to eventually expire the compliance data in the archive after it is no longer needed based on policy. Video surveillance architecture Continuing to rely on traditional systems like NVRs will fast become unsustainable for businesses Even if your organisation isn’t using machine learning or artificial intelligence-powered applications to enhance your data today, it probably will be one, three, or even five years down the line. Implementing a flexible end-to-end video surveillance solution prepares you for this possibility. With new advances in technology, the quantity of data captured by video surveillance systems will continue rising throughout the coming decade. As such, continuing to rely on traditional systems like NVRs will fast become unsustainable for businesses. Looking forward, when moving to an end-to-end video surveillance architecture, security pioneers should make sure to evaluate options from different vendors. For true futureproofing, it’s a good idea to opt for a flexible, modular solution, which allow different elements to be upgraded to more advanced technologies when they become available.

How can the security industry provide affordable and cost-effective solutions?
How can the security industry provide affordable and cost-effective solutions?

Cost is a reality to be managed. No matter how powerful or desirable a technology may be to a customer, the sale often comes down to the basic question: Can I afford it? And affordability extends not just to the purchase price, but to the cost of technology over its lifespan. In addition to advances in technology capabilities, the security industry has also achieved inroads to make its offerings more worth the cost. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: What is the physical security industry doing to make more affordable and cost-effective technology solutions for end users?